By Leah Fessler
This week, we spoke with Piper Anderson, Founder and President of the social impact firm Create Forward, who is facilitating Chief’s upcoming community conversation series.
Q. Why is it so important to hold space for private conversation and community between Black Chief members?
Piper Anderson: It’s so important to create a space where Black women can talk about their experiences right now because experiencing anti-black racism in this country is something that you only fully understand if you are a Black person. If you had to walk around in this skin your entire life. So often when we are in mixed spaces, we have to either explain ourselves, or have to be in this constant negotiation with the people who don't fully understand what we're experiencing — particularly if there's a power dynamic.
Lots of folks are going into work right now and finding themselves doing a lot of emotional labor with their White colleagues and bosses. So there's no safe space to fully express your grief when you’re surrounded by people who don't understand your grief and anger. What we’re creating here with these private conversations is part of a very long tradition of creating affinity groups and spaces in which we as Black people can be seen, where we can mirror for each other, and where we can support each other without having to explain our existence.
Q: When reflecting and working on how to be a better ally, what are some of the most important mindset shifts to focus on?
PA: First off, allyship is not an identity. It is a practice. It is an ongoing commitment to being in a place of learning and cultivating radical self-awareness. Understanding the ways in which your Whiteness has privileged you in ways that many of us will never know, and never get to experience. You need to be focusing on how you can decenter yourself and the White experience in conversation, so this stops being about what you can do, and how you can be better, and becomes more about what you need to understand about yourself, about how you've been conditioned throughout your entire life to think about race, or not to.
Allyship is a consciousness, and it takes time. There is no shot in the arm. There is no inoculation against racism. You don't just get to do a short training and suddenly you're good. You need to be avoiding this trap, and avoid thinking you know, "There's three things I can do today and that will make me not racist." There's no formula you can follow that will suddenly make you a good ally. We need to throw out this way of thinking that like, you're a racist or you're not. We need to move toward recognizing that you've been conditioned by an entire system of racism, and whether or not you think that you participate in it, the reality is that as a White person, you've benefited from it.
Q. As an executive hoping to make strides or continue making strides toward racial justice in your organization, what questions are most important to be asking yourself right now?
PA: You know, I do a lot of training and organizational development work. And one of the first things that I will ask an organization before coming in is, are you ready? Like, how much risk can you tolerate? And how much disruption will you tolerate? Because the minute you open the door to these conversations, you are inviting in a dialogue that will totally upend the status quo. Suddenly dynamics that you were not aware of, you're fully aware of. Suddenly, by naming it, and by deciding that you're going to invite conversation to it, people start asking what you are going to do about a number of things — from hiring practices to inequity to lack of senior leadership of color, et cetera. All those questions disrupt the status quo. So if you're not ready to go there, if you are not ready to really align your actions to your words, then it leads to tremendous distrust, and it will kill morale. And it will undermine any trust that people had in you as a leader.
Originally Published June 8, 2020